Main content starts here, tab to start navigating

Spring Forward with Fresh Flavors

Spring Forward with Fresh Flavors

Bright and earthy flavors make their way into our dishes as we begin to welcome warmer, brighter days. We crave sweet notes found in strawberries, pineapples, and mangos while also exploring fresh root and stem vegetables such as radishes, asparagus, and rhubarb. Even our wine and beer selections become lighter-bodied and crisper. As our Chefs prepare for Spring, we asked some of them to reminisce on their favorite memories, express what sparks their creativity, and share their must-have spices and ingredients. Get inspired for the upcoming season by reading their responses below!

Chef Melanie Dunia
Empire Eats Executive Chef

What 4 ingredients are necessary in your kitchen? 

Lemons, hot sauce, salt & pepper and Oreos. First off, who doesn't love Oreos? They're just to eat! As for lemons, you can do anything with them - entrees, desserts. It's endless. I love hot sauce (not the very spicy stuff) and salt & pepper because they can change a dish from bland to flavorful fast!

What's one of your favorite culinary memories?

I was a contestant on the Food Network's Chopped! It was such a surreal experience. I would tell you how I did, but that would ruin it! Be sure to check it out: Chopped Grillmasters - North Carolina

Chef Tracy Wildrick
Executive Chef - Sitti

What's your first memory of your love of cooking?

Watching the chef at my local diner cook breakfast. I would sit with my dad at the counter on my chair, spinning around, fascinated how fast he and his sous chef would pump out amazing food! My favorite was their egg sandwich and french toast dusted in cinnamon sugar.

What spice do you love to work with most?

Cinnamon. It goes with practically everything and every cuisine. It is comforting and heightens the flavor of fruits or berries and adds that "What is that flavor I'm tasting?" effect.

What are you excited to add to your spring menu?

I'm excited to add some fun, lighter salads and entrees. We've all been inside for almost a year and need some lighter, healthier fare. For example, we are bringing back our popular Chicken Piccata in place of the Chicken Marsala!

Chef Sam Paskoff
Executive Chef - The Pit Durham

What's your first memory of your love of cooking?

Making dinner for the family when I was 5 or 6 (oven-fried chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli.) It was so fun to make everything, and I realized I could make people happy doing it. I also remember cooking at friends' birthday parties. I was 10 years old grilling hamburgers and hotdogs for everyone.

What is the first dish you learned to cook?

French Toast. My mom recalls reading the newspaper one morning when I was about 3 and realized she was not worried about her toddler making French toast on the electric griddle.

What do you love to cook at home?

Sushi. It’s a fun challenge to take a dish and make it into a roll. For example, grits instead of rice, shrimp in the middle, and a blanched collard green instead nori. Boom. Shrimp and grits sushi!

Chef James Robertson
Executive Chef - The Pizza Times

What spices and ingredients do you love to work with most? 

Working in Italian kitchens most of my career, you have to love oregano, basil, garlic and parsley. Other staples include really good olive oil, wine, salt and hot sauce. You can't cheap out on the basics if you want your food to be top notch, and everybody needs a little heat in their life.

What's your first memory of your love of cooking?

I started working in restaurants when I was 13 as a dishwasher. When I was 15, one of the pizza guys on the line didn't show up, so the head chef grabbed me and said "You're making pizzas tonight, kid." That first night was rough, but finishing it as part of the "pizza line" was such a great feeling, and I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

Where do you draw creative inspiration from?

My favorite way to come up with new pizza ideas is to take someone's favorite non-pizza dish and see if I can turn it into a pizza. One of my favorites is Eggplant Parmesan, so I found a way to put it on a pizza. I also use my experience from owning a bakery to experiment with different types of dough and playing with different styles of pizza.

The Pizza Times has a new menu! What are you most excited about?

I'm excited that The Pizza Times's new menu features some of my most popular specialty pizzas so guests can order their favorites all the time now.